Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A minor "machloket" (dispute): Minhag (custom) versus personal initiative

It's customary for a person who wears a tallit (prayer shawl) to pull it over one's head for a moment after saying the brachah (blessing) for putting on a tallit. Much to my considerable surprise, I learned only about six months ago, after over 30 years of wearing a tallit, that there's a quotation to recite while the tallit is over one's head. You'll find it at the beginning of Orthodox and Conservative siddurim (prayer books). (I don't know whether it's in the current Reconstructionist or Reform siddurim.)

"Ma yakar chasdecha, Elokim . . . How precious is Your kindness, L-rd. The children of Adam take refuge in the shadow of your wings. May they be sated from the abundance of Your house, and from the stream of Your delight may You give them to drink. For with You is the source of life. In Your light will we see light. Continue Your kindness to those who know You, and Your charity to the upright of heart." (Psalm 36: 8-11)

Gorgeous, isn't it?

This is yet another quote that I learned from Mark, who was kind enough to point out to me where in the siddur the lyrics to his "Ma Yakar" were found. If you want to hear the song, you'll have to shell out some challah--it's on his "Rock of Sages" CD. Believe me, the CD's a good investment.

Ahem--Enough with the 20-minute introduction, already. Here's the machloket (dispute on a matter of Jewish tradition):

Me: Why don't you want to learn to say "Ma yakar?"

My husband: Nobody ever showed me that.

Three-second silence.

Me: Well, I was twenty-four when I began wearing a tallit, and nobody ever showed me that, either!

In the course of the ensuing discussion, we concluded that my hubby was simply not willing to take on a minhag that he didn't remember ever having seen as a child. In his defense, let me state for the record that, after several attempts to learn to lay tefillin (phyllacteries) from various people left me, as a former rabbi used to say, "confused on a higher level"--apparently, I was doing half Sefardi, half Ashkenazi minhag at one point--I finally asked my favorite Punster to teach me, and have been following his minhag ever since.

I confess to being highly amused. If I'd ever refused to take on a new practice simply because I'd never seen it as a child, I would never have learned to wear a tallit or tefillin.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Reconstructionist siddur "Kol Haneshamah" does indeed have the "Mah Yakar" piece, as well a kavvanah after tefillin/before the rest of birchot hashachar that I haven't seen elsewhere and really like. (focusing on the mitzvah of "veahavta le-reecha kamocha" -- and ending "uvizchut zeh eftach pi" -- and by the merit of this mitzvah I open my mouth (in prayer).

Tue Dec 20, 06:23:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Thanks for the info. Having sent many years in a Reconstructionist synagogue using both the original Reconstructionist siddur and the original edition of Kol Haneshamah, I'm not surprised. Even the original siddur was more traditional than the the original Reform siddur, the Union prayerbook. Both have both much more traditional in more recent editions.

Tue Dec 20, 01:13:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I believe I said it the first time, just because it's so nice. Since then - no. We just don't have the minhag...

Tue Dec 20, 11:09:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ezzie, thanks for the information. So it isn't just certain non-Orthodox synagogues (mind you, my parents' shul, where I learned this minhag/custom, was Conservative) that don't have this minhag. My husband thanks you for getting him off the hook. :)

Thu Dec 22, 12:09:00 AM 2005  

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